The parents of Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man killed during a police raid in Minneapolis last week, are calling for an end to no-knock warrants in the city – describing them as a failure of law enforcement.
“The no-knock warrant is what caused Amir’s death,” father Andre Locke told CNN on Monday.
“The whole system. He wasn’t killed. He wasn’t murdered. He was executed,” Locke’s mother, Karen Wells, said.
Locke was shot as a SWAT team executed a warrant at an apartment Wednesday morning. A short video clip of the incident shows police entering the apartment and shouting commands as Locke, who appeared to be sleeping, gets up holding a gun that his family said he legally owned. Police then opened fire.
Locke wasn’t named in the warrant, officials said.
“As professional people that carry guns and are supposed to protect and serve a community, they didn’t protect my son that day,” Wells said. “They chose not to do that, and they took him from me and I am angry,” she added, holding back tears.
“He didn’t even see what was coming. He couldn’t see who took his life,” Locke said, describing how his son usually slept on his stomach with a cover over his head.
In November 2020, amid a nationwide reckoning over police policies prompted in part by the murder of George Floyd and the shooting of Breonna Taylor during warrant service in Louisville, Kentucky, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo announced they were instituting a policy that required officers to announce their presence and purpose before entering a building – except in special circumstances.
At a City Council committee meeting Monday seeking clarity in the wake of Locke’s death, Frey said he holds himself accountable for using language indicating the city had banned no-knock warrants.
Frey was reelected in 2021 and said some of his campaign statements were misleading. He said his language in describing no-knock warrants was more casual and did not reflect the necessary precision or nuance.
“I believe that my language and what we were saying certainly in longer form honored the spirit of this policy change,” Frey said at the virtual meeting, “but there were instances when it did not, and I own that.”
The mayor told the committee that before late 2020, there was state law on no-knock and knock-and-announce warrants, but there were no “delineating factors beyond those options.” The city had no policy at the time, he said.
“Our policy reform then required officers to announce their presence and their purpose prior to entry when serving any type of warrants, including a no-knock warrant,” the mayor said.
On Friday, Frey imposed an immediate moratorium on the request and execution of no-knock warrants, but his announcement noted they could still be carried out if there is “an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public and then the warrant must be approved by the Chief.”
Examples of those circumstances include hostage situations and extreme domestic violence situations in which an officer may have to protect someone from the threat of severe bodily harm, he said.
“We have to challenge them not to put a Band-Aid over no-knock warrants,” Locke family attorney Jeff Storms said. “They need to take this step and completely ban no-knock warrants. It’s not safe for either side of the door.”
“Nothing that they can do can bring our son back,” Andre Locke said. “But the best thing they can do at this point, with no-knock warrants and prosecuting the officer who decided to play God, what they can do is fire him, prosecute him and just tell the truth.”
Professor: No-knock warrants are dangerous
No-knock warrants are historically dangerous for police officers and residents, according to Rachel Moran, a University of St. Thomas School Law School associate professor and founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic.
“Just to give one example, between 2010 to 2016, at least 94 people were killed in the United States as a result of no-knock warrants,” Moran said.
“What Mayor Frey’s November 2020 policy did was require Minneapolis police in most situations to announce their presence before crossing the threshold into a residence,” Moran said, pointing out police could open the residence without knocking but were then required to announce their presence when they crossed the threshold.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents Locke’s family, said that in too many instances someone affected by a no-knock warrant ends up wounded or dead, and that most of the time the person is Black.
If the police would have announced their presence “to carry out their duties in a safe, professional manner,” the death of Amir Locke could have been prevented, he said.
“This is an epic failure policy,” he said, “and that failed policy killed Amir Locke just as surely as the bullet that pierced his body.”
Family wants change in policies
Earlier Locke’s aunt, Neka Gray, called on officials to change no-knock warrant policies, saying the warrants mostly affect people of color.
“We stand together and demand this change. Unfortunately, Amir won’t benefit from it, but the next person will,” Gray said at a news conference with family members and racial justice activists.
Nneka Constantino, one of Locke’s cousins, said her family is struggling with knowing police are trained to disarm and deescalate, yet body-worn camera video shows officers firing their guns within seconds of entering the apartment where Locke was in the living room and appeared to be waking up.
“Our family is not naïve, so we understand that it was not necessarily a person but a system of injustice that has killed Amir Locke,” Constantino said. “It’s a layered system of injustice that starts with so many inequalities and abuse. ‘Shame on you’ is not enough of a condemnation.”
Frey should immediately fire the officer who fired the fatal shot and suspend the other SWAT team officers, Racial Justice Network founder Nekima Levy-Armstrong said. She demanded interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman be fired or resign.
Frey and Minneapolis police leaders intend to meet with prominent activist DeRay McKesson and Eastern Kentucky University justice studies professor Pete Kraska, who worked with Louisville police after Breonna Taylor’s killing “and have spearheaded significant reforms to unannounced entry policies” across the country, Frey’s office said last week
Locke’s early-morning killing
On Wednesday, just before 7 a.m., Minneapolis police were executing a warrant linked to a homicide probe in neighboring St. Paul, authorities said, when a SWAT officer fatally shot Locke, who appeared to be asleep on the couch.
Officers burst into a home, and as Locke tries to stand – still wrapped in blankets – he is seen holding a gun, police body camera footage shows. Three gunshots are heard.
The 14 seconds of footage the city released do not reveal how Minneapolis SWAT members approached the apartment or how they reacted after the shooting. CNN has requested body camera video from the other responding officers.
Locke was not named in any warrants, police said, and his family says he acquired his firearm legally. Locke’s parents describe him as a budding figure in the music industry who wanted to help young people.
The warrants precipitating Locke’s shooting are sealed to “protect the integrity of the investigation” and will remain sealed until a “court directs otherwise,” said Steve Linders, spokesman for the St. Paul Police Department, which is investigating the homicide that served as the basis for the warrants.
“The City of Minneapolis told the public that it was limiting the use of no-knock warrants to ‘limit the likelihood of bad outcomes,’” Storms, the family attorney, said. “Less than two years later, Amir Locke and his family needlessly suffered the worst possible outcome.”
Gov. Tim Walz said last week his heart goes out to Locke’s family, and while the state has made strides when it comes to no-knock warrants, Locke’s death shows the need for “further reform,” he said in a statement.
Walz has no authority to issue a statewide moratorium, he told CNN affiliate WCCO on Sunday, but there are now legislators who are “‘hearing voices’ that were silent on the issue until this week.” Lawmakers should also consider the best practices for getting violent criminals off the streets, he said.
“I’m sorry it took this tragedy, but there are voices now across the political spectrum that these are very dangerous,” the governor told the station.
City already had a no-knock policy
The mayor’s order prohibits police from serving warrants without first knocking, announcing themselves and waiting a reasonable amount of time before entering. However, it leaves open the prospect for an unannounced warrant if there is “an imminent threat of harm to an individual or the public and then the warrant must be approved” by the police chief, the mayor’s release said.
“No matter what information comes to light, it won’t change the fact that Amir Locke’s life was cut short,” Frey said in the statement.
Frey appears “committed to making changes to these processes in order to protect lives,” McKesson said, with Kraska adding city leaders “are demonstrating their dedication to real change through this collaborative partnership.”
Officers were serving an average of 139 no-knock warrants annually at the time of the November 2020 announcement, according to the mayor’s statement. The news came about six months after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.
No-knock warrants persist, according to a review of records by the Star Tribune newspaper. Its reporters found Minneapolis Police Department personnel had obtained 13 no-knock or nighttime warrants so far this year – as opposed to a dozen standard warrants in the same time span.
The figures are likely undercounted, the newspaper reported, because some applications are submitted under court seal.
In the Locke case, interim Chief Huffman has said, “The officer had to make a split-second decision to assess the circumstances and to determine whether he felt like there was an articulable threat, that the threat was of imminent harm, great bodily harm or death, and that he needed to take action right then to protect himself and his partners.”
Locke pointed the weapon at officers, police initially said, but it was not apparent in the 14 seconds of video released by the city.
Locke was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center where he died of multiple gunshot wounds, authorities said. The officer who shot him, Mark Hanneman, is on administrative leave pending an investigation, per department policy.
Attempts to reach Hanneman and the Minneapolis Police Federation were unsuccessful. The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation, Huffman said.
CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Adrienne Broaddus, Amy Simonson, Hannah Sarisohn, Tina Burnside, Christina Maxouris, Ray Sanchez, Aya Elamroussi and Raja Razek contributed to this report.